A thumping majority defeated the motion that “Secularism is a sham” at Calcutta Club on Friday evening.
Politicians, former bureaucrats, ordinary Indians and activists spoke at the Calcutta Debating Circle presents International Debate in association with The Telegraph where the attack on students in university, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the National Register of Citizens came up repeatedly.
“Civilised debate is what we need and not lathis and stones on the heads of our young students,” author-activist Farah Naqvi said speaking against the motion.
“Every rod used against the students will be given back by debate and discussion, Aishe Ghosh, the JNU student union president said with 16 stitches on her head,” said Naqvi.
The chairperson of the debate was cardiac surgeon Kunal Sarkar, who is a trustee of the Calcutta Debating Circle. “What has been a philosophical issue elsewhere, what has been a constitutional issue somewhere, to the people of this city... this has been an issue of lives and livelihood and there is so much going around about our religious neutrality and our religious bias…. So Calcutta Debating Circle was of the opinion this has to be today and this has to be now,” said Sarkar.
To many, constitutionality could be of supreme importance. But BJP MP Swapan Dasgupta can see beyond. He said: “Constitution is important. We are what we are because of our civilisation.”
“When you read the preamble just realise one thing that we are what we are not because of the Constitution.…That civilisation tells us that we are something little more and more uplifting than even secularism can set limits to. That we are Indians, partly because we are like this only,” he said referring to the protest by St. Stephen’s College students in Delhi.
Jawhar Sircar, a retired IAS officer, said the fact that “we are allowed to practise our own thoughts, our own rituals, our own Gods is the biggest victory of a multi-ethnic, multilingual, multi-national nation.
“And today someone is trying, someones are trying to disrupt the very framework the very foundations on which India stands — the secular foundations. Remember, Muslims here are not by anybody’s grace. They are as much part of India…their contributions have been no less than anyone else’s. So you are not doing anyone a favour.”
RSS spokesperson Desh Ratan Nigam said that the Constitution was “probably the only constitution that has not defined minority but gives superior rights and privileges to the minorities”. He added: “Actually, in a secular nation everybody is equal... Free our temples from government control. You don’t control churches and mosques.”
The last speaker of the debate neurosurgeon Sandip Chatterjee said: “In India, secularism means embracing all religions.” Chatterjee said it pained him when he “looks at the human brain and think how can anybody say that it is a Muslim brain or a Hindu brain or a Christian or Buddhist brain because every brain looks exactly the same.”
BJP leaders Shazia Ilmi and Vivek Reddy, Malayalam actress and right-wing activist Deepa Easwar also spoke for the motion. Janata Dal (United) leader Pawan Varma and Congress’ Sanjay Jha opposed the motion.
Debaters Jordon Anderson and Heather Williams critiqued both the two sides.